Malachi: New Start, Same Pattern

 Malachi001

Welcome back!

It is hard to believe it is August.  School is now back in session, and our life groups are restarting after their summer hiatus.  I know a few of you have kept going throughout. Way to go.  This week we start back with our weekly Year of the Bible Discussion questions.

The Year of the Bible

Over the past 8 months, we have read through the story of God and His people, Israel, as told in the Old Testament.  We have read through thousands of years of Israel’s history, rediscovered events and characters, and witnessed victories and defeats that shaped Israel’s story.
In August, we will sort of reflect on the story as a whole, as the Chronicles remind us of the repeated patterns in Israel’s relationship with God, before moving finally into the New Testament in a couple of weeks.
But before we read 1 & 2 Chronicles, we will start with Malachi. (The Christian Bible ends the OT with Malachi, where the Jewish Bible ends with 1 & 2 Chronicles.)

Malachi takes place post-exile, right after Persian King Cyrus allows Israel to return to the Promised Land so they can rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Once this happens, there is a renewal in Israel for worship of YHWH and true covenantal faithfulness.  But, this new enthusiasm doesn’t last, and Israel soon drifts into the apathy and unfaithfulness that seems to be their default setting throughout the Old Testament.  God, through Malachi, is in dialogue with a people whose worship is cold, who’s faith is apathetic, and who’s hearts are sarcastic, cynical, and hard. Sound familiar?
You can hear the cynicism and sarcasm throughout Malachi, can’t you? “I have loved you,” says the Lord. “How have you loved us?” they reply.  “Return to me and I will return to you,” says the Lord. “How are we to return?” they reply. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me,” says the Lord. “How do we rob you?” they reply.
Read Malachi 1 together. (It isn’t long, Saber.)
How would you describe the posture of God towards Israel? Of Israel’s posture toward God?
Israel has once again arrived at what seems to be a turning point with God.  How do you respond to what God says to them in these nine verses?
How is God’s language here similar to other parts of the Old Testament?  What parts of Israel’s history do God’s words here remind you of?
Imagine yourself in this situation.  After a generation in exile, you are allowed to return to the land God had promised you and rebuild the Temple and to begin the Temple worship once again.  But you are still under the rule of the Persian Empire, and you are still poor and powerless as a nation. You have just experienced a period of enthusiastic renewal of Temple worship to YHWH, which over time has faded into the familiar pattern of unfaithfulness, apathy, and cynicism.
What kind of questions would you want to ask God in this moment?
What would your honest response be to God’s words through Malachi?
Can you identify with Israel’s cynicism and even defiance towards God? Why?
Have you ever expressed feelings like that toward God? If not, why not?
As a group, read Malachi 3:6-12 to try to understand God’s perspective on the situation.
In the verses that follow, the hard hearted respond poorly.  Sarcastically.
But look at verses 3:16 – 4:5 to see how “those who feared the Lord” responded, and what God promises them.
In Malachi, God’s justice is coming… But only for those who’s hearts are hard toward God.
What does this mean for us?  Should we fear judgement from God? Why or why not?
What things can we be doing this week to cultivate the right heart-attitude toward God?
As you close your discussion time, be sure to pray for each other.

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